On The Verge Festival is now in its second edition with this year’s festival pushing performance boundaries by offering spontaneous and one on one performances across Liverpool. I met members of Hope Street Company at their offices in Liverpool One, fresh from their first performance outside of the Odeon cinema.
“We have an intensive 6 month programme for emerging artists,” Creative Director Montse Giili explains; “it’s for actors, designers, filmmakers – anyone who wants to be involved in the arts like that – and this is what the festival is about. It’s really a new festival for emerging artists, performed in unusual places.”
In the midst of what seemed like an organised chaos (a water pipe burst just minutes before I arrived), actors and stage managers were loading last minute props onto shopping trolleys, ready to create a theatre in another new place – this time, Liverpool Central Station. I join in with their parade up Church Street, guiding a trolley pushed artfully by Sam, a Stage Manager involved in Monday Happening, who seems just as excited as the rest of our party. We certainly gather some strange looks along the way, but these performers are used to it, and the rest.
Monday…. Photo Credit: Author’s Own
Monday Happening, was devised by Sophie Tickle and Kate Treadall as a response to a new way of thinking: what happens if we think of the trials life throws at us as gifts? The performance was playful and uplifting, and in its beginning provided a really interesting juxtaposition between the public and private, sound tracked by a stream of consciousness style voice over.
It was here, in Liverpool Central Station, that I enjoyed also watching the reactions of passersby. The woman who applauded before everybody else, the teenage boy who stopped to watch, his girlfriend that dragged him away. What On The Verge has sought to do, and succeeds in, is playing with the idea of the “theatre” and location. If the theatre is removed from performance, what happens? The audience has to become more involved, as demonstrated before my eyes. In the middle of a busy train station, the performance could have many different beginnings and ends, depending on how long the viewer stayed to watch. I found myself watching the crowd as well, as is natural whilst in a public space. I realised I was being slowly pushed by commuters in a different direction to where I’d started out, and viewed the end of Monday Happening from a different vantage point to its beginning.
Drive By, Photo Credit: http://www.hope-street.org/on-the-verge.html
Up the hill and away from the city centre at the Victoria Gallery and Museum, I found myself talking to Bethany Sproston, director of Drive By – a one on one performance piece performed entirely inside her own car. Inspired by arbitrary conversations with strangers on public transport, Beth has devised a relatively unscripted piece in collaboration with the actor, Danielle Edwards, where the audience is needed to act the part just as much as the actor herself. The piece is immediately engaging and warm, and is almost cathartic in places as I share experience and memory with the actor, and actually, I really enjoy it. Danielle’s performance is fresh and honest, and I leave the car feeling like I’ve made a new friend.
IHAPPYIGOOD Photo Credit: http://www.hope-street.org/on-the-verge.html
I arrive in Toxteth for the next performance, surrounded by soaring, unloved Victorian mansions. I’m led up the garden path (literally) of 13 Devonshire Road, by an On The Verge usher, who reassures me about my location, and then proceeds to take me into a damp basement flat, surrounded by rain puddles and smashed glass, where I’m blindfolded. I-HAPPY-I-GOOD is an immersive theatre experience that requires its participant to wear a blindfold, earphones and sound defenders, and take on the persona of a deaf-blind woman. I found myself being led forwards by two cold hands, my touch sensation heightened. It was a fully immersive experience, completely debilitating. I felt, at times, an overwhelming sense of both fear and calm. Afterwards, I blinked into the sunlight once more, enjoying my renewed vision, and my eyes were soothed by the orange of fallen autumn leaves. Amy Conway, the creator of I-HAPPY-I-GOOD has vowed to create work that speaks for the underrepresented, and draws upon her experience as a care assistant for the deaf-blind in order to bring her performance to life. If art is meant to make you think, I-HAPPY-I-GOOD certainly achieved its goal. To say that I enjoyed the experience would be to miss the point – it was an experience to be experienced, and a feeling of uneasiness stayed with me for hours afterwards.
On The Verge is a creative and innovative festival for performance led mainly by young people. The performances I saw had clear and positive messages, and were devised by passionate women, all with a story to tell. I was struck in particular with the sense of excitement and possibility surrounding the Hope Street theatre company, and that was very inspiring. Each piece played with location and audience to create something different, a refreshing sight in as vibrant a city as Liverpool.
Words: Grace Edwards
On The Verge Festival runs until 25 October in pop-up venues across Liverpool. Events include plays for both children and adults, one on one performances, and panel discussions.
Find out more and book your ticket now at: http://www.hope-street.org/on-the-verge.html